The Christian History of “Pagan” Easter

This is a slightly updated post from my Anxious Bench archives. Happy Easter! I bought Easter candy for my students. It was a mistake. Although the students made a valiant effort to eat as much as possible, they left a few Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs (a particular weakness of mine) in the candy basket. Needless [Read More…]

That REALLY Old Time Religion

Over the past few months, I have posted quite a few items on the subject of possible pagan survivals into medieval and even modern societies, as indeed has my Baylor colleague Beth Barr. I stand by everything I have written in those pieces – but I really have some questions that remain open. They are [Read More…]

Where Did All The Pagans Go?

I have been posting about a source on religion in Wales around 1715 , which illustrates how Christian communities maintain themselves when church structures and institutions have been removed. The author, Erasmus Saunders, tells us a lot about the rural society of his time, and its religious life. Almost as important, though, is what he [Read More…]

The Nightmare Before Halloween

I love Halloween, and I love horror fiction. One of the most powerful and evocative contributions to both areas is a lengthy poem that is now regarded as one of the greatest exemplars of modern poetry in the British Isles. As we approach Halloween, it amply repays your attention. The poem is the Ballad of [Read More…]

Halloween: More Christian than Pagan

This is from my archives at the Anxious Bench, originally published Oct 31, 2015. Although I have previewed it this year with my recent 2016 posts  Burning Witches in Medieval Europe? and The Modern Roots of Pagan Halloween , this post stands as I originally wrote it. We, of course, will carve pumpkins again very soon (next [Read More…]

The Place Called Dagon

I have been posting abut the modern mythology that tried to understand witchcraft as an authentic underground survival of ancient paganism, and how those myths of witchcraft and devil worship evolved into the modern farrago of Satanism. Throughout, I stress the role of academics, and of fiction-writers, whose ideas came to be believed as sober [Read More…]

Up on the Downs

I have been posting about the creation of modern myths about paganism, human sacrifice and other dark rural deeds in twentieth century Britain. Throughout, I have emphasized how artificial these ideas are, in the sense of being literary or artistic creations, commonly reinforced by the growth of sensationalist tabloid media. Many of the works in [Read More…]

Britain’s Pagan Twilight

I have been writing about the long-standing British fascination with the idea of a continuing rural paganism, ideas that in the 1960s grew into the genre of Folk Horror. But why did the ideas of witch-cult theorist Margaret Murray attract such a wide and credulous following? Looking at the writings of such mainstream figures as [Read More…]

Wood Magic

I have been posting about pagan survivals into Christian times, not in terms of actual continuities so much as modern romantic reconstructions of those matters. As I noted, scholars like Margaret Murray used such a vision as the basis for a whole recreation of a supposed ancient paganism surviving in modern times in the form [Read More…]

Witches in the Village

In 1945, English villager Charles Walton was gruesomely murdered in what sensationalist media decided was a sinister “witch murder,” even a human sacrifice, in the community of Lower Quinton. That story, as described by detective Robert Fabian, became the foundation of a whole genre of fantastic fiction, Folk Horror, and this spilled over into the [Read More…]